How to run a Design Thinking workshop
Reading time: about 7 min
Consider the last problem you tried to solve or the last idea you attempted to execute and deliver. How did you approach finding the solution or launching the concept? Maybe you trusted your gut instincts or made some assumptions about what would result in the best possible outcome or product. That's a reasonable approach. But did you take time to consider why and how the problem exists in the first place? Did you explore the multifaceted ways an end-user might engage with your idea?
If not, you're likely not familiar with the concept of Design Thinking—a proven, collaborative approach to solving both everyday and organizational problems. Research from the Design Management Institute shows that organizations with a design-driven strategy outperformed in the S&P Index by 219% over 10 years.
So how do you facilitate collaborative design thinking in your organization? A Design Thinking workshop can help you familiarize your team with the process and get the creative problem-solving juices flowing.
What is Design Thinking?
Occasionally, a new way of thinking about or approaching work leads to huge improvements in how work gets done. Enter Design Thinking—a structured approach to problem-solving that helps people break free of counterproductive tendencies that thwart creativity innovation. And it's not just reserved for designers or creatives.
Design Thinking centers on putting the needs of the user first. With the user always in mind, the focus shifts to challenging assumptions, redefining problems, and finding solutions that might not be readily apparent. It's a way of thinking, just as much as it's a hands-on way of working. Let's take a more in-depth look at each stage of the clearly defined process.
The five stages of design thinking
A few variants exist in the Design Thinking process. However, each of them centers around the needs of the user. The following stages are part of the five-phase model proposed by the Hasso-Plattner Institute of Design at Stanford, also known as d.school. This process isn't necessarily linear—each step can inform a truly creative approach to problem-solving.
It's one thing to recognize that a problem exists. And it's another to put yourself in the shoes of who the problem affects. Design Thinking is all about understanding the people you're designing for and developing empathy with the target user. The result is a solution or product that serves the people you're solving or building for.
What is the problem you're trying to solve? Why does this problem exist? How do people experience this problem? How might it be solved? Once you identify the problem and understand it from the user's perspective, you can establish some guardrails and clearly define the next steps.
After defining the problem, a clear solution may present itself right away. While an obvious approach is a solution to consider, it's not always the most effective solution. Bring a collaborative eye to the issue to challenge your assumptions about how it should be addressed. If your original conclusion is the best solution, that's great. However, taking the time to ideate and think creatively may help you develop more effective—or even game-changing—ideas.
The only way to know if you've found the right answer is to test your hypothesis. Start sketching, prototyping, and building. As you build, you might need to revisit the previous steps. That's OK. Trust the process and be flexible.
A build-first, ask questions later isn't the right approach to every problem. For example, incorporating diverse viewpoints from the start may initially slow down processes but ultimately result in more inclusive products. However, the only way to create real value in the products you build is to test your ideas and then improve them.
Benefits of conducting a Design Thinking workshop
Whether or not you're a designer, incorporating Design Thinking into your problem-solving process can help you deliver viable, user-centric solutions that speed time-to-market, improve customer retention, reduce costs, and boost ROI. Aside from those tactical, metrics-driven benefits, a design thinking approach can have a positive cultural impact on your organization.
Create a creative problem-solving culture
Problem-solving is an essential skill, both at work and in everyday life. A Design Thinking approach can help your team develop those skills and apply them to any challenge they face.
Turn initial failure into eventual success
Because a Design Thinking approach is inherently flexible and iterative, it allows for quick failure and learning. As a result, you can avoid the pitfall of seeing an ill-advised idea to completion only to fail thanks to an unexpected blindspot or barrier.
Foster innovation and teamwork
The very nature of Design Thinking encourages collaboration and thinking outside-the-box. The process gets everyone, regardless of seniority, to bring new, out-of-the-box ideas to the table, eliminating group-think and encouraging innovation.
Build a competitive advantage
A Design Thinking workshop may deliver groundbreaking ideas or solutions that give your organization a competitive advantage.
How to run a Design Thinking workshop
OK, now that we've covered the "who", "what", "where", and "why" of Design Thinking, let's talk about the "how." What is the most effective way to pull off a Design Thinking workshop? There are some straightforward steps.
What do you want to get out of the workshop? Clearly define and state the meeting's ideal outcomes before you add it to everyone's calendar.
Determine and scope the problem
And be specific. A high-level goal of revamping company culture, for example, might sound like an exciting project, but if the scope is too broad, you'll have trouble locking down actionable, achievable goals.
Create an agenda
There's no quicker way to derail a meeting or workshop than by failing to set an agenda. Set an outline or schedule for the workshop and include it in the invite so attendees have time to prepare for each section of the workshop. Like your Design Thinking approach, this agenda can be flexible, but it's still important to have clear milestones that you can reference to keep the workshop on track.
Bring and share all of the necessary materials
Start by sharing all relevant context and information ahead of the meeting. When it comes to materials, there's no need to get too fancy. Embrace your elementary school craft days and gather a collective of colorful post-it notes, tape, markers, plastic cups, and tape to encourage a fun, creative session. If you're conducting the workshop remotely, an interactive, digital whiteboard tool like Lucidspark can help encourage real-time visual collaboration, no matter where your team happens to be working.
Start the workshop with a warm-up activity
You wouldn’t jump into a long or hard workout without a proper warmup. The same goes when you’re prepping your team for an effective, collaborative Design Thinking workshop. Think word games, quick improv sessions like charades, or giving everyone the opportunity to present an outlandish idea and solution.
Here’s another idea: ask everyone to write their full name simultaneously with both hands in opposite directions to engage both the logical left and creative right side of the brain. None of these exercises are particularly valuable on their own, but the creative warmup lap will prep your team for a creative sprint.
Keep notes throughout the workshop
Assign someone to take notes and photos throughout the workshop without distracting participants. This documentation will act as a "version control" of sorts you can reference as you recap the meeting. You can also share the photos with the team to remind them of the collaborative, Design Thinking approaches they can incorporate into their day-to-day work.
Leave time for reflection
Set aside time for reflection at the tail end of the workshop to review the process, evaluate how far you've come, and congratulate each other on a session well-done.
Once you’ve familiarized your team with the principles of Design Thinking, you can hold workshops whenever you run across a new business problem. The result will be a more collaborative, creative approach to problem solving—and a highly engaged team.
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